Food for Thought: The Gambia, Uganda, and Rwanda

March 30, 2023

Food is the language of communities—gathering rich traditions, poignant memories, shared experiences, and friends and family together. Food communicates the knowledge of our ancestors, the love in the hands that prepare it, and the joy of those we share it with. 

In January, the Frontida team worked hard to research the needs of hospitals and clinics in The Gambia, Uganda, and Rwanda. Although Frontida Executive Director Lauren Yen, Head of Product Ria Xi, and Product Designer Madeline Kim were far from home, they felt a deep sense of community dining with local doctors, humanitarians, and their families. 

Here are some of our favorite comfort foods from the trip.

The Gambia

When asked about her favorite dish throughout the trip, Yen exclaimed, “Jollof rice!”

Jollof rice is an aromatic marriage of long-grain rice, tomatoes, onions, spices, vegetables, and tender meat. This reigning West African one-pot dish features a captivating red-orange hue and an exciting mixture of spices.

The recipe has evolved from thieboudienne, a rice dish containing fish, shellfish, and vegetables. Thieboudienne arose in the rice-farming Wolof (or Jolof) Empire, which spanned present-day Senegal, The Gambia, and Mauritania in the 14th century. 

Since then, there have been variations of Jollof rice across the West African region. Every year, each country in the region participates in a cooking competition to decide the best recipe. Our host in The Gambia informed us that representatives from The Gambia and Senegal are often winners. 

His entire family spent several hours carefully preparing Jollof for our team, among other dishes. Yen, Xi, Kim, and our partners Affordable Health Needs (AHN) and the Narrative Roots Project shared this incredible meal at their home.

“The rice was perfectly crispy with an amazing mixture of spices and delicious meats and vegetables,” described Kim.

We cannot thank our host and his family enough for painstakingly preparing such a comforting and hearty meal while supporting our mission of high-quality healthcare.

Explore this West African treasure in your own kitchen by experimenting with various recipes, such as this Senegambian take.


Welcoming us into their home, the parents of our host in Uganda freshly prepared a chicken and a goat for us. In addition, they offered matoke bananas picked straight from their farm. Matoke is a staple food crop in Uganda that is harvested when unripe and green.

First, our host’s mother and father boiled the matoke. After, they served them to us wrapped in banana leaves to keep them warm. Versatile, the fruit can be stewed, mashed, roasted, or fried. If you are interested in cooking with it, follow along with this home cook’s step-by-step instructions for stewed beef and matoke.

The flesh itself possesses a texture that is much more similar to mashed potatoes than plantains.

After having matoke for the first time, Kim said, “I was expecting it to be sweet but it wasn’t at all. That was surprising but also extremely delicious.”

We appreciate our host, his mother, and his father for warmly receiving us, assisting in our needs assessments, and sharing their wonderful harvests. 


In Rwanda, our host’s chef prepared us chapati, a scrumptious, golden flatbread featuring an inviting chew. Its subtle nutty flavor means it can be eaten by itself or dipped in a variety of soups and stews. 

Kim remarked, “Chapati was a wonderful snack that was extremely filling.”

The flatbread arrived in Rwanda when Indian laborers began building railroads in East Africa under British colonialism in the 19th century. Unlike the original version from India, East African countries create multilayered chapatis fried with oil.  

Today, they are crucial to Rwandan breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. With chapatis, there are endless possibilities from five simple ingredients—flour, oil, sugar, salt, and lukewarm water. The preparation is even simpler. 

We are grateful to our host and his family for sharing such a fantastic meal with our team while helping us navigate Rwanda’s healthcare system. 

Across our month-long needs assessment, the Frontida team had the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the cultures and flavors of these three beautiful countries. Much like food, our technology speaks to communities of doctors and patients in low-resource settings. With our ongoing work, we can build confidence in healthcare and empower people in these diverse, thriving regions.

Ariana Castro

Ariana Castro is a nonprofit copywriter and grant writer at Frontida Records. She is a second-year UCLA student majoring in English and minoring in Digital Humanities.


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